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Trafficking in the News

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Photo credit: Shutterstock/GongTo

Trends in the News on Trafficking

We’re breaking with our traditional format of relating the news to highlight an interesting trend in reporting on the news about trafficking, especially in regards to Thailand/Southeast Asia. In the past few months, there has been a growing narrative on the relationship between trafficking, human rights norms, and international trade and cooperation.

Increasingly, human rights considerations and the prevalence of human trafficking concerns are becoming a standard part of trade negotiations and international cooperation. Nations are expected to revise national laws to meet international standards or risking losing trade privileges due to noncompliance. As Sumano reports in the Bangkok Post, “Pressured by the new trade landscape, governments can no longer focus on economic prosperity without addressing social development through the promotion of fundamental human rights.”

In response to increased scrutiny over its trafficking record, Thailand became the third country in ASEAN to ratify a new convention on human trafficking. It’s the region’s first legally binding commitment to combatting trafficking, and it underscores the Thai government’s dedication to working in concert with other nations to eradicate the problem. (Source: The Diplomat)

However, there is some concern that while the pressure from trade deals highlights human rights abuses and encourages compliance with international standards, especially within the seafood industry, it allows other forms of human trafficking (such as child trafficking, etc.) to fly under the radar. Human rights organizations have been skeptical of the US’s move to upgrade Thailand’s TIP status, fearing the move has been made too soon, perhaps for political reasons to counterbalance against China’s growing influence. (Source: ASEAN Today)

In Other News

U.S. prosecutors are collaborating with Thai police to prosecute a major case against a large international sex trafficking ring, where hundreds of Thai women were brought to the U.S., promised lucrative jobs, and sold as sex slaves in cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Washington. The accused include 17 Thai nationals and 5 Americans. (Source: Bangkok Post) This highlights the growing relationship between American and Thai law enforcement agencies to prosecute cases in both nations and collaborate to fight trafficking. (Source: FBI)

NGOs fighting trafficking in Vietnam are arguing that prevention programs that focus on “raising awareness” alone, without any efforts to fight root causes, are not sufficient, especially with endemic corruption permitting trafficking to continue. (Source: ASEAN Today)

Cambodian trafficking victims are suing U.S. seafood importers and their Thai suppliers that they allege have been complicit in slave-like working conditions. (Source: VOA News)

Young Cambodian filmmakers have teamed up with human trafficking survivors to produce short films based on true-life events. The Chaktomuk Short Film Festival will highlight several films touching on issues such as migrant workers’ rights and how families must cope when a member leaves in search of work. Trafficking survivors have not only contributed their stories, but have also partaken in some of the acting. (Source: Cambodia Daily)

Corporate Social Responsibility is More than Writing a Check

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In tribute to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, we will post this banner on all our articles until the end of November. 

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Giving to charities is on a decline. Corporate contributions, especially, have declined from a high of 2.1 percent at its peak in 1986 to just around 0.8 percent in 2012.

It’s understandable. With every transaction scrutinized, traditional corporate philanthropy is considered an inappropriate use of funds. And yet, the demand for socially responsible companies grows. In fact:

  • 90% of U.S. consumers say they would switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality, reports the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study
  • 55% of online consumers are willing pay more for product or service offerings when a company is associated with social impact, according to a Nielsen study
  • 67% of employees would rather work for an organization that was socially responsible, according to the same Nielsen study

It’s not an issue of people being uninterested in companies that are socially charitable. It’s an issue of donating time and money more effectively. Businesses quantify everything, and for good reason. You want to make sure what you are doing is paying off. Because of this, corporate social responsibility has evolved into something that is beneficial for the business, their employees, consumers, and non profit organizations.

So the question is: how can you make your company more socially responsible and more effective?

 

Build social responsibility into your company mission statement

Effective giving starts at your company’s core. It should be part of your drive, written into your mission statement, and reflected in every action your business makes. Outdoor retailer, Patagonia, is a great example of this. Instead of calling it “corporate responsibility,” they view their corporate giving as “caring for the planet that has sustained us.” For every purchase made, 1% goes toward causes the leaders at Patagonia are passionate about, like preserving land, protecting salmon, creating healthier soil, and producing more sustainable food. Corporate philanthropy is not just something they do–it’s something they live and breathe.

Yvon Chouinard, the owner and founder of Patagonia, said:

“If you could get businesses, any business, to understand that they have more responsibility than to maximize the profits for their shareholders, or for themselves, that they have a responsibility to the planet. We all do. The best way to do it is to dig into your pockets and give the money away to the people who are willing to do the good work.”

Making giving part of your mission statement sets you apart from your competitors. It says, “we’re passionate about what we do, and we’re passionate about doing it responsibly.” The leaders at Patagonia stand by their mission statement to care for the earth while making good products, and from that, they actually make more money and have loyal fans.

Look at your products and services. How can you expand your societal engagement? How can you build social responsibility into the core of your business?

 

Partner with the right cause

All businesses start as being an answer to a problem. We see a market need, and work hard to fill it. Charities are the same way–they just provide their services in a different way. Partnering your business’s passion with the right charity can be a powerful and dynamic way to increase loyalty and goodwill for your company and awareness and funds for the cause.

 

The best partnerships make sense

In 2010 when KFC partnered with cancer awareness charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, people were confused. Barbara Brenner, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, argued:

“They are raising money for women’s health by selling a product that’s bad for your health… it’s hypocrisy.”

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Involving your company with a social cause is more than just feeling good about making the world a better place. It’s an alliance saying that the charity’s work aligns with your own ideals.

Warby Parker creates eyewear. But they also give back eyewear to people who need it. Their business model is “buy a pair, give a pair.” After they tally up how much they have made, they donate a portion to their nonprofit partners who train men and women in developing countries how to perform basic eye exams. It is good for Warby Parker, because it is good marketing, morale building, and fan building, and it is good for the world. It’s a partnership that makes sense and fits easily into their business strategy.

Some connections are easier to draw than others, but it shouldn’t be difficult. If you are a grocery chain, consider partnering with a food bank. If you are a technology firm, consider investing in underserved children’s educational programs, like science museums or kids’ camps that provide training in skills you’d like to see. There are thousands of different charities doing amazing work. Find the one that connects with the reason for why you started your own business and see how you can harness your collective power in transformational ways.

 

Social responsibility is good business

The companies that get the most from social giving are the ones who genuinely feel passionate towards a certain cause. It’s the ones that recognize a problem in the world and feel like they can’t just sit and watch. It’s the ones that are able to rally hundreds, or thousands, or millions of employees, customers and fans, behind something they are passionate about.

Being socially responsible is taking a risk, but it, so far, is proven to be a successful way to run a business. Craig Matthews, the owner and founder of Blue Ribbon Flies, second member of Patagonia, said:

“From a marketing standpoint, once people find out what you are doing and giving to what they are so passionate about, and what business members are so passionate about, it’s a no-brainer. People sign up and people become your customer because of it.”

 

How can partnering with a nonprofit help your business, inspire your employees, rally your clients, and change the world for better?

 

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Lauren Ellis started working as a graphic designer at 18 and by 26, she left her agency job to help start up a small web agency in downtown Austin where she worked as Creative Director. Since then, she left her home in America behind to work in Thailand with The SOLD Project. Lauren teaches art therapy classes, designs all of The SOLD Project’s work and manages the social media accounts.

Last Month, Today: The News from August and September

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LOCAL

California is decriminalizing prostitution for minors who are victims of trafficking. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law several bills designed to better protect young trafficking victims by preventing disclosure of their personal details, providing victims’ services to trafficking witnesses, and allowing testimony through closed-circuit televisions in court. However, some of the bills were highly controversial, including ones to allow human trafficking victims to vacate prior convictions and seal their records.

Other bills are still pending, including one to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for some prostitution offenses.

Source: Jazmine Ulloa/LA Times

A special report from the FBI on trafficking in Thailand was released in two parts. The first part highlights how Thailand has ramped up efforts to counter trafficking with the assistance of the FBI and other partners, especially in regards to child exploitation, sexual abuse, and trafficking in persons. The second part highlights efforts to provide more and better services to victims, and how Thailand is starting to emulate victim-centered approaches that the FBI has been implementing since 2001.

Source: FBI

 

THAILAND

Thailand has agreed to extradite to Malaysia over 10 suspects charged with involvement in the human trafficking cases involving Rohingya and Bangladeshi nationals found in mass graves along the border of both countries last year. Thus far, warrants have been issued for more than 60 suspects, and 50 of them have been arrested and prosecuted.

Source: The Nation/The Star/Asia News Network

Relatedly, a man charged with the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, in the high-profile case that brought the mass graves and trafficking camps to light, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. He was also fined 660,000 baht ($19,000)

Source: Reuters

Thailand and Malaysia are discussing the possibility of building a wall along the border between the two countries to help reduce trafficking and cross border terrorism. It is believed the wall will help enhance security, though details about the size and details of wall construction–including who will shoulder the costs–remain unclear.

Source: International Business Times

A Northern Thailand police and press conference highlighted recent successes in combatting trafficking in the region, with an announcement that 30 suspects have been arrested thus far this year, with 22 cases involving underage prostitution. Suspects have been caught in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Phayo, and Phrae.

Source: Suwit Rattiwan/Chiang Rai Times

 

GLOBAL

Thai trafficking victims have been discovered in Oman, after a raid involving over 100 Thai and Omani authorities was conducted in Muscat. Twenty-one Thai women had been lured by a Facebook ad offering masseuse jobs paying 100,000 baht a month, but upon arrival in Oman, their documents had been confiscated, their communication was cut off, and they were forced into prostitution. Three Thai woman and two Omani men have been identified as suspects.

Source: Bangkok Post

A new USAID program has announced it will dedicate $12 million in the first year of a 5-year plan to protect and compensate victims of trafficking in South East Asia. Victim services, especially for refugees, is often overlooked and agencies in the area believe that the additional resources can help organizations redirect government attention to this part of the problem.

Source: VOA News

A Yazidi survivor of ISIL/Da’esh’s human trafficking has recently been appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, suffered severe abuse at the hands of ISIL in Iraq and the Levant. Thousands of Yazidi, especially women and children, continue to be held captive and the UN is calling for their immediate release.

Source: UN News Centre

10 Ways To Be a Better Ally

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dscf6377Anyone can be an ally in the fight to end child trafficking and exploitation. Our staff, whether paid or volunteer, range from counselors, mentors, and educators, to managers, farmers, marketers, writers, researchers, photographers, and filmmakers. People who support us include donors giving to our students and programs, fellow activists in the field, people in related industries, and of course, like-minded, concerned individuals who follow us and give shout-outs on social media. All are needed and welcome. Whether you’re with us on the ground daily or you follow us through cyberspace, we’d love to share with you some of what we’ve learned about being a better ally to those most at risk of exploitation.

  1. Tell stories ethically

So much of what we do at The SOLD Project comes from a heart of story telling. From the documentary that started everything to our blog and the way we connect people across the globe, stories lie at the core of how we operate. Our goal in sharing these stories, however, is not to perpetuate pity. We try to avoid engaging in sob stories to drive donations, and choose to instead focus on stories that are dignifying, respectful, or empowering to the person involved. Their lives are their stories to write in way that inspires pride, and our goal is to share stories that inspire connection, and a deep respect for our common humanity. This means a focus on positivity despite challenges. It means writing with the person’s consent, and often even their input, and being willing to let them change how the story is written—letting go of control and your own agenda, and being open to what a story has the potential to become.

  1. Offer your real skills

Well-meaning volunteers come through wanting to offer their time to help organizations like us working in the area. To be a well-functioning and ethical organization, we need to be thoughtful about who we invite in and how. The best way to have a positive impact is to share a skill or knowledge you’re already passionate about. If you want to come in and help build desks for our classrooms, but you’ve never built furniture a day in your life, the result is unlikely to be beneficial for you or the nonprofit. The desks would probably be inexpertly made, possibly even dangerous to our students, and would cost materials and time that could have been given to someone local who does have that expertise. It probably wouldn’t be fun or inspiring for you either. If you want to do volunteer work, try to find a project that harnesses your true interests, passions, and skills, and it will lead to a much more meaningful experience for both you and the organization with whom you’re working.

  1. Practice non-judgment

We often hear questions like “How could a family sell their child?” or “Why would a girl ever voluntarily go into the sex trade?” In order to truly understand others, we have to remember that we don’t all come from the same place. If your family is well and whole, even in hard times, these things might be unthinkable. But if we consider what it would be like to grow up in place where hunger is a frequent house guest, working any way you can is literally the difference between life and death, and sacrificing yourself to save your family is one of the most honorable things you can do, the decision looks very different. Also very rarely is it one decision; it’s often a series of decisions: drop of out school to save money, try to find a job in a restaurant, or maybe a bar, leave to go to the big cities for more opportunities, and end up in a job you never expected to take for money you never thought it was possible to make.

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  1. Remember that root causes are systemic

The cause of child exploitation almost never begins with the trafficker or the victim. It begins in poverty, in statelessness, in gender inequalities, in racism, in exclusion and alienation, and in a world where children are viewed as less than fully realized human beings. If we really want to end trafficking and child exploitation, we need to start with the society that allows and perpetuates all these things, and we need to start interrogating ourselves as individuals, and examine any of the ways we are complicit.

  1. Look to the helpers

In recent years, there’s been a general outcry against too much donation money going to “overhead,” and some basic agreement that the more money given directly to the recipients of aid, the better. Obviously, multimillion dollar salaries for CEOs of organizations whose base is still struggling to feed themselves is not an ideal scenario. However, in lieu of a society with a universal basic income and support infrastructure in place to help people in need, organizations run anemic without donations for their staff and general programs. In our experience, the scholarships are necessary but not sufficient. Children need mentorship and guidance, a safe place to stay and play, and awareness raising programs to help ameliorate vulnerability locally and abroad. We also need long term staff that can build deep, lasting relationships with the students, their families, the community, the legal and medical system, and fellow activists in the field. To be done effectively, all those things cost money and require people with talent, skills, deep commitment and expertise. Those people also need a living wage and various kinds of support to help keep them focused and balanced in a very emotionally demanding job. If donations are a way you’d like to be involved, consider sponsoring a student, and also consider sponsoring the support structures that help ensure the scholarship and prevention programs are as successful as they can possibly be.

  1. Assess your own agenda

Any help you can offer is always welcome. However, sometimes, if our best intentions aren’t coming from the best place, we can end up doing more damage than good. A question we can ask ourselves is: Am I joining the cause in a way that respects the dignity of the people I’m helping, or are the people merely tools for something else I (whether consciously or unconsciously) want to achieve? Getting something for yourself is not inherently a bad thing. What we most want to be careful of is: when push comes to shove, will we act in a way that serves our own agenda regardless of the needs of the other person, or will we let go of our own needs if we discover it does not help the ones we serve?

  1. Always be open and willing to learn more; to listen as well as speak

No matter what we think we know about trafficking, prevention, our students, or any of the issues we grapple with on a daily basis, we practice it best from a perspective of humility. Truths may change, or our understanding may deepen, or there are people from whom we might learn something so long as we assume we don’t have all the answers.

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  1. Be inclusive

There’s a phenomenon among activists where people can sometimes get stuck in a feedback loop of each trying to prove how committed to the cause they are, thus getting ever more extreme, and shutting out people who are deemed insufficiently committed. This is not a healthy way to grow a movement. Accept people on their own terms. Let each learn and grow and commit on a level that is sustainable to them, whatever that means.

  1. Find a tribe who both encourages you and holds you accountable

Being an ally in a social movement of any kind can be incredibly mentally, emotionally or even physically challenging and draining. It can feel isolating at times. Surround yourself with people who fill you up, who help you feel encouraged and rejuvenated and inspired. Surround yourself with people who make you want to do better and be better—and you will, and so will they.

  1. Keep your own love tank full

You know how when you get on a plane, they tell you in case of emergency to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others? It is incredibly hard to give when you are empty. Generosity is much easier when you are full and whole and complete. Do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy, and then you can give more whole-heartedly and in much healthier ways to others.

Want to be an ally of The SOLD Project in the fight to end child trafficking? Check out these ways to get involved and ways to give!

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

How is Congress Doing in the Fight Against Human Trafficking?

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You might have noticed an important U.S. election is coming up in just a couple of months. Presidential politics aside, a big part of the action lies with Congress. How do our Congressional leaders stack up in the fight against human trafficking? Join us here for a quick inside look!

 

 
Senators such as John McCain, Amy Klobuchar, Mark Kirk, and Chuck Schumer have made a lot of waves in directing policy efforts and funding towards trafficking prevention as well as victim services–but they’re not the only ones to do so. California’s own senators, Barbara Boxer, as senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chair of the first subcommittee ever to focus on global women’s issues, and Dianne Feinstein, as the first female Senator to serve on the prestigious and influential Judiciary Committee, are both recognized “champions” of the anti-trafficking effort as well.

In the House of Representatives, The SOLD Project’s district representative, Barbara Lee, has also been an advocate for positive change, cosponsoring several bills to help prevent child marriages in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (HR 2103), to prevent international violence against women (HR 4594), and to make anti-trafficking efforts a priority (HR 2283 and HR 3344).

As Barbara Boxer has decided to retire, her seat is up for grabs in the November election. The two strongest contenders are both women:

Kamala Harris as CA Attorney General has already shown experience and dedication to fighting transnational crime like human trafficking and sexual exploitation by leading a group of state attorneys to facilitate cooperation and coordination between the US and Mexico’s law enforcement efforts, and working to empower women and girls globally by ensuring access to health care and education.

Loretta Sanchez is a recognized “supporter” of anti-trafficking efforts, and has used her position in the House of Representatives’ Armed Services and Homeland Security Committee to introduce legislation to combat trafficking in the U.S. by improving information gathering and sharing processes. She also “was the lead Democrat introducing H.R. 5116, the Human Trafficking Detection Act, which would give DHS officials the training they need to identify potential victims of human trafficking and report these cases to local law enforcement officials,” and she has secured funding for a local task force in Orange County, CA to combat trafficking in her district.

Want to find out more about your Congressional representatives’ records?

The International Justice Mission provides fantastic resources, including: a score card listing which representatives are champions, leaders, and supporters of the fight to end trafficking and modern slavery; detailed suggestions on how to lobby your representatives as a concerned citizen, and how to be an informed and influential advocate for positive change.

Want to help, but don’t know what to ask for?

Here are some legislative actions that we at The SOLD Project have been supportive of so far:

  • bringing the spotlight on human trafficking in general, as well as child trafficking and exploitation in particular
  • efforts to ensure law enforcement agency efforts do not re-victimize victims, but instead act to support victims with sensitivity
  • FBI & HSI efforts to work with NGOs on the ground, sharing resources like expertise and information
  • enlisting support from other sectors such as: the transportation industry, first responders, educators & medical professionals

Further policy actions you might like to support:

  • in countries where ethnic minorities and immigrants are particularly vulnerable, we’d like to encourage better documentation (perhaps through providing incentives to register themselves, e.g. access to social services and more legal job status, or reduced penalties for illegal migration) and provide a more feasible path to citizenship
  • provide “slave free” labels on items like seafood, clothing, coffee, and chocolate, for companies that can prove their supply chain is entirely fair trade
  • more clarity and greater distinctions made between cases involving pedophiles versus actual traffickers–we want to be sure that cases made against pedophiles are not used to pad the number of cases against traffickers to make it appear that more progress is being made
  • more effective back-and-forth communication with a variety of counter trafficking NGOs on the nature of trafficking on the ground (how they see it happening, and who it is affecting), and how we can adapt our prevention practices
  • grants and funding for NGOs making advances in the anti-trafficking efforts
  • more support, funding for, and reliance on pilot studies, micro-level data, etc. into best practices for anti-trafficking prevention and intervention efforts

This piece is, of course, not comprehensive, but hopefully it helps shed some light on Congress, it’s role in the fight against child trafficking and exploitation, and how you too can be an advocate for change!

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.